Thursday, June 26, 2008

Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher

We hear anecdotes and read news articles sounding the alarm for boys in our schools. Are they being left behind? Why do their scores drop in middle school, especially their writing scores, when compared to girls. A recent book by Ralph Fletcher tries to address these questions and offer some tools and tips for helping boys as writers.

Fletcher is a respected staff developer and children's book author. His books on teaching writing and using the writing workshop, such as Live Writing: Breathing Life Into Your Words and What a Writer Needs, are widely read and valued by teachers of writing. In Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, he tries to show teachers what the classroom and writing workshop are like from the perspective of boys. And it's not good. Boy writers often feel rejected by teachers when the topics they choose or like most, such as war or bathroom humor, are disapproved of or received with no enthusiasm. Some teachers emphasize handwriting which hampers some boys (and girls) and makes writing a chore at which they are sure to fail. Regardless of the exact whys, many teachers find themselves struggling to reach boys and help them develop as writers, especially as they move into the middle school grades.

The chapters discuss various topics like "The Gender Filter," "Rules of (Dis)Engagement," "Drawn to the Page," and "Boy-Friendly Territory." Each chapter ends with a section called "What can I do in my classroom?" with practical tips and options to try with male students. At the Stenhouse Publishers' website, you can see the table of contents and read the first chapter, "The Trouble with Boys," in PDF format.

In that chapter, Fletcher discusses what he's seen as a writing workshop consultant and what he has heard from some writing teachers. He also outlines what he learned from Tom Newkirk's book Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture, published in 2002. What Fletcher got from Newkirk is that "we don't really understand the boys in our classrooms. We misunderstand their crude humor. Especially after the tragic shootings at Columbine High School, we fear their apparent thirst for violence, which is reflected in what they choose to read and write. Instead of trying to understand these boys we treat them as a problem to be managed." No wonder some boys are sullenly disengaged from the classroom.

Fletcher hopes that his book will help break down the barriers between boys, their writing voices and their teachers. Hopefully, with his guidance, we can inspire boys and "widen the circle" of writing workshop to make them feel welcome and ready to take a chance and participate at all ages.

SOURCE: "Stenhouse Publishers: Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices" 2008
photo courtesy of GypsyRock, used under this Creative Commons license

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